Effects on Children of Witnessing Domestic Violence

Research and clinical practice suggest that children witness domestic violence in varied ways, for example:

  • Hearing and seeing the abuse,
  • Seeing a battered or traumatized parent,
  • Being scared for their own safety,
  • Getting drawn into a fight to protect a parent,
  • Seeing an abusive parent arrested

Children in homes with domestic violence are often also the targets of violence. This can occur because: the batterer physically abuses children; the children get into the "line of fire," either accidentally or when trying to intervene; or an abused parent becomes punitive to the children.

There is increasing concern about the damaging effects on children of witnessing violence between their parents. Children's responses and reactions vary by age and developmental stage.

  • Most studies find significantly more than normal hyperactivity, aggression, sleep disturbances and/or behavioral and emotional difficulties.
  • Research, so far, indicates that some children who witness domestic violence show no measurable behavioral or emotional difficulties. This suggests that resilience is also possible.
  • The effects of being a victim of violence and/or witnessing violence vary with the age of the child, the duration and severity of violence as well as the availability of protective factors.
  • Protective factors include: A positive relationship with a non-abusive adult and safe and accessible places of refuge.

Excellent web resources on this subject are: